With the Whisperer War about to reach its bloody zenith and everyone’s lives on the line, The Walking Dead apparently isn’t afraid to let things get weird first. And the assault rifle-toting ray of sunshine who made her debut last week was only the half of it.
When I say “The Tower” was goofy, I don’t mean that in a bad way. I’m also not saying the episode was a delight, but it was certainly entertaining. Although it’s one of the shortest episodes in recent memory—it’s less than 42 minutes, including the opening title and end credits—it has a lot going on. First and foremost, Beta has taken control of the Whisperers’ horde of zombies, and completely lost his mind. Admittedly, seeing as he’s been wearing a bespoke zombie mask for years, that’s not exactly a major transformation, but now he’s actually hearing zombies talk to him.
But when he brings his horde to Alexandria, he finds the Alexandrians…gone. The settlement is completely empty, and there’s something deeply funny about seeing Beta at the base of the windmill, staring out at the million zombies who have filled Alexandria to the brim, and clearly having no idea what to do. It’s even funnier when Alden pokes his head out from the top of the windmill, where he and Aaron are hiding. (There’s even a cartoony scene of Beta whipping his head up real fast because he thinks he sees something, but Alden ducks like a whack-a-mole just in time to avoid being spotted.)
The rest of the Alexandrians and remaining Hilltoppers are in the titular tower, wherever the hell that is. Other than hiding, their big plan seems to revolve around Luke building something, because I guess the former music teacher has electric skills? He needs some wires or a doohickey from a car for it, so Carol and Kelly go fetch it solely so they can have a moment where the no-longer-obsessed Carol can apologise for getting Kelly’s sister Connie killed. Both Kelly and the show let Carol completely off the hook, suggesting it’s fine because Kelly is certain Connie isn’t dead. It’s weird.
It’s also weird that Negan marches up to Lydia and tries to become her grief counselor, given that, you know, he murdered Lydia’s mother Alpha very recently. While the character has officially become one of the good guys and has always had a soft spot for kids, it’s bizarre to see Negan suddenly become so empathetic that he gets teary-eyed trying to help Lydia process her grief. It’s much more reasonable when he suggests Lydia punch him to kickstart said processing, but when Lydia does finally freak out and breaks down crying, Negan’s the one who ends up holding her, whispering comforting words, and compassionately stroking her hair to soothe her.
In comparison, the scene where the other super-macho badass comforts a young girl is much more reasonable. Judith sneaks out of the tower to join Daryl while he’s keeping a watch on the perimeter, and he gives her a few lessons in badassery along the way. But Judith gets disturbed when Daryl kills a Whisperer and leaves her body in a ditch. If you’re thinking Judith is upset by seeing someone take a life directly in front of her, don’t worry—Rick’s daughter is way too pragmatic for that. What she’s really upset about is how her mum Michonne left her, and she’s worried Daryl will eventually abandon her as well. The fact that (as far as we know) actor Danai Gurira has no intention of returning to the series gives Judith’s grief an extra dimension. It’s also doubly comforting when Daryl promises her he’ll never leave because it might as well be Norman Reedus talking directly to the audience.
In a different episode, these three moments of emotional reconciliation—Carol n’ Kelly, Negan n’ Lydia, Daryl n’ Judith—are so straightforward that they would feel crass and manipulative, but in “The Tower” they work, and that’s because of the ebullient artist who greeted Eugene, Yumiko, and Ezekiel last week. I fully expect that Princess, as she introduces herself, will annoy many viewers, much as she annoys the trio. I get it, since she does scare off the horses by needlessly showing off her zombie-shooting skills in hoping of impressing her guests, then also needlessly leads the gang into a minefield while secretly taking them on “the scenic route” to alternate transportation. She’s supposed to be annoying.
It doesn’t help that her origin and story play out exactly as you expect: She’s gotten a little kooky because she’s been living by herself for years, but it turns out she was super-lonely before the zombie apocalypse too, which is why she conspired to spend the whole day with the first living people she’d seen in forever, which melts Yumiko’s stony heart and she allows Princess to join the expeditionary party.
But the scene where Eugene, who is already anxious about potentially missing his meeting with the mysterious Stephanie, sees himself in Princess and reaches out to her gives the episode its best, most authentically moving moment, and guys? She could have led them virtually anywhere in order to hang with them longer, and she still chose to go through a literal minefield. Watching Yumiko, Eugene, and Ezekiel stand like doofuses in the rain while Princess tries to remember the correct, non-explosive path out is delightfully silly. And anyway, most Walking Dead characters are annoying in one way or another, and in much less fun ways.
Although the real season 10 finale has been delayed until sometime later in 2020, at least “The Tower” ends on a solid cliffhanger—Beta leading his zombie horde to where our heroes are hiding…thanks to a broken branch, a cat, and the very clever zombies who Beta believes are talking to him. It’s goofy as hell, and it’s still absolutely going to lead to someone getting killed. Works for me, as long as it isn’t Princess.
Princess calls zombies “Rotters,” but it’s not a new name for them. It was used by the people in the Atlanta hospital Beth visited back in season five. Since Princess says she’s been hanging in Charleston since the apocalypse started, I think we can assume it’s a mere coincidence.
The “cascade” gag in the minefield was telegraphed a mile and a half away, but it still worked for me.
While keeping a watch on the herd, Aaron and Alden get caught by Whisperers in one of those scenes that only makes sense if the characters can only see what the camera sees. The Whisperers sneak up on them from practically all sides, so at least a few of them should have been spotted along the way.
I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing Eugene, Yumiko, and Ezekiel take a bike ride to their potential doom whenever the finale does air. No matter what, though, their mission has already partially succeeded: Princess has candy!
For more, make sure you’re following us on our new Instagram @io9dotcom.